Tag Archives: Wales

I can enjoy walking more thanks to a new invention

I didn’t learn to run until I was 21.
Well, I could obviously run, but it looked more like a baby bird trying to get off the ground than proper running.
The reason is – when you’re born totally blind – as I was, you don’t run like your sighted friends.
If I took a tumble, I just had to wait for someone to come and help me – or galumph my way to where I thought help might come from.
We did track and field events at school – and I had a guide runner *someone who runs along-side you invariably attached to a piece of cloth/rope or something.
There was also a system where we ran by ourselves and someone would say “five, five, five!” if we deviated one way it was “six!” or “Four!” and if we veered totally off course it was a 1 or 10.
So, the very convoluted reason for me explaining this to you is that after I “learned” how to run with a friend I completed a half marathon.
This gave me the running bug – or in my case the walking bug.
I’ve subsequently done two long distance walks – one is 190 miles and one was 70.
I know to some people these don’t seem like much – but I raised almost £20,000 for the guide dogs organisation by completing them.
Now, the good thing about walking or running with a sighted friend/guide/partner is that you can chat away and put the world to rights. The downside of this is that, if you have a guide dog with you *as I do for much shorter walks* sometimes the dog goes scampering one way on it’s lead, and you end up doing a really good impression of a push-me pull-you!
The other difficulty is when arms/hands get sweaty.
Another drawback I have found is that if someone is excessively tall – or small, it really hurts my arms.
So, I was very curious when the RNIB mentioned on Twitter that there was a new piece of equipment called the Rambletag.
I got in touch with Laura – one of the inventors and she very kindly sent me one to try out.
I love it!
I first used it when I went for a walk around the Orme in Llandudno with a couple of friends.
It’s very hilly – and the route is about a five mile round trip from my house.
The Rambletag looks a bit like the cuff they use to take blood pressure with – but it has a strap on it which the blind/partially sighted person holds.
The sighted person wraps the cuff around their arm and secures it with Velcro.
It’s available in a range of different colours including my favourite colour, red.
It’s perfect for people with dogs as well. In fact, it was a chance remark by Tom Forsyth, one of the inventors which sparked the idea for the Rambletag.
Tom and his neighbour – and co-inventor *if there’s such a word* Laura Maclean used to walk their dogs together, but would inevitably end up in a pickle if the dogs got too playful.
They realised if they had a way of keeping together by using a strap it’d be easier to walk.
So the Rambletag was born – and it’s now being used all over the world.
They’ve recently had the Rambletags used by staff in Glasgow airport who give passengers assistance.
I’m taking it with tomorrow on a five mile walk – and I know that it will be a much more enjoyable experience if I use the Rambletag.
I really recommend it to anyone – whether a casual stroller or a long distance walker.

For more information – or to find out more, visit:
http://www.rambletag.co.uk
or follow them on Twitter at:
@rambletag

Blind faith

I didn’t realise I had a ‘problem’ until I was 28. I was sitting in a job interview which I thought had gone quite well. ‘Of course Nicki,’ said the employer (who I’m not naming out of kindness), ‘You must realise that anyone who employs you is going to have a problem because you’re blind!’
I was shocked! I politely informed him I could do any job, apart from maybe fighting in the army, but he was unmoved. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
Tough times
I’ve been blind since birth, but until that day it hadn’t mattered to me. I’d had two summer jobs while at university. Then, after graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University with a contemporary arts degree, I took part in lots of fundraising challenges for local and national charities. I’d done everything from sky-diving to a half-marathon, but finding work was very hard.
I attended a church in Llandudno and had lots of friends there. I went to a Bible study group with a wonderful lady and each week we prayed for me to find a job. My prayers were answered in 2010 when I started working for the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) in Bangor.
In the October of that year, Dad was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. He had his first operation in March 2011, the same week my contract ended at the RNIB. Then in July 2011, my friend Claire from church asked me if I’d like to go on Beach Mission with her in Llandudno. I’d never considered this before but thought it would be fun. I went to church and Bible study every week, what could possibly go wrong!
Life-changing words
I arrived on the Saturday, and the first thing I noticed was the vast majority of people on the team were a lot younger than I was. Secondly, there were no off-duty activities a blind person could take part in, so I felt ignored most of the time. I tried to join in as much as I could, but it wasn’t easy. After another day of feeling ignored, I rang my Bible study friend and said I couldn’t carry on with the Beach Mission. She told me to give it one more day, then if I still didn’t like it, she’d take me home.
That evening, I went along to a meeting on Llandudno prom. There, one of the teenage workers gave his testimony. It was in the form of a question and answer, and one of the questions was, ‘How did you become a Christian?’
I can’t remember the whole answer, but the last sentence was the one which changed my life. He said, ‘I suddenly realised that Jesus Christ was the only one who could help me!’
I burst into tears and turned to my friend, Roselyn. Between gulps, I said, ‘That’s the bit I’ve never done! I’ve never asked Jesus to come into my life and help me, do you think he can?’
The team leader noticed something was wrong and came and sat with me. I poured my heart out to him, how I felt so worthless sometimes, and all the comments I’d had because I was blind. He gave me a CD of John’s gospel and told me to listen to it. Normally I would just put the CD under a pile of papers and forget about it, but on that night I felt compelled to listen it – that’s the Holy Spirit for you! As soon as I reached John chapter 9, where Jesus heals a man born blind, I started crying again, but this time it was with hope! Jesus loved blind people! He cared enough to give them their sight.
Blind faith
The first three verses were, and still are so powerful when I hear them.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’
‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’(John 9:1-3).
I realised that as Jesus healed a blind man so that his life could be used to show God’s glory, so my blindness also came from God and was purposed by God to be a blessing both to me and to others. I also realised that just as Jesus showed such mercy to someone who society shunned as a nuisance, he would show that same mercy to me.
I asked Jesus to come into my life – and I’ve never looked back! I was still blind, but I knew I was a child of God and no longer felt I had to worry about what other people thought of me. I’d like to say it has been a totally exciting ride not without dramas! But everyone reading this will know there’s no such thing, even for Christians.
Two weeks later Dad went into a deep depression, brought on by his cancer diagnosis and the fact he’d been so strong during his treatment. I hated seeing my Dad go from a confident, outgoing man to someone who was scared a lot of the time. Then, after returning from volunteering at a Christian radio station in Perth, Australia I had just started a broadcast journalism course at Cardiff University when my lovely Dad, whom I was incredibly close to, died from secondary cancer.
I really struggled, as the people on my course, untouched by death, ignored my grief rather than helped me. But I had two things they didn’t — a guide dog, who sat with me while the silent tears fell, and a guide God who made his presence felt throughout.
The future’s in his hands
I moved to Cardiff three years ago for work and while waiting for my third guide dog I took comfort from the book of James. I love the way James talks about trials, and how they are sent to teach us patience. Dog number three arrived, and his name is… James!
Even though I am still unemployed after having been out of work for three years and I have no idea what the future holds, I know it is all in God’s plans, which are only good and right. Each time I receive a rejection after an interview, I know it is strengthening me for what God has planned for me.
Dad had a favourite hymn which he could still quote even when very poorly. I am so grateful that God doesn’t change and will stay with me forever, guiding me through this life and into the next.
How good is the God we adore!
Our faithful, unchangeable friend:
His love is as great as his power,
And knows neither measure nor end.

For Christ is the first and the last;
His Spirit will guide us safe home;
We’ll praise Him for all that is past
And trust Him for all that’s to come.

You can contact me through twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

why do we call New Zealanders Kiwi’s

Mark Twain wrote: ““Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
This is really true.
over the last 20 years I’ve travelled to almost 20 countries.
I’ve immersed myself in the smells, sounds, touch and taste of each one, but there is still so much more I want to see.
I’ve missed out a vital sense I hear you shout!
The reason for that is I have been blind since birth, so I can’t offer any reliable knowledge about what a country “looks” like.
So, in the first of two blog posts, I’m going to write the A to Z of my sense of New Zealand.
It’s not a travellog – (come on, who really cares how long it took you to get to the airport, what the food was like on the plane or what the hotel receptionist said to you)!
This is a description of the people, places and parts of New Zealand you might not know about.

A is for:
Anzacs

My trip coincided with Anzac Day – the 25th of April.
Anzac stands for Australia and New Zealand army corps.
In 1914, when World War one broke out, the population of New Zealand was 1 million.
18,000 men died in the war, including over 2700 in the Gallipoli campaign.
Out of the 3000 who fought on the first day, 650 died.
One exhibition in Wellington was especially poignant. It showed a video with the words of nurse Lottie Le Gallais who was one of the women who went to treat wounded soldiers.
The exhibition features stories of ordinary people from New Zealand – and larger than life sculptures and objects from Gallipoli.
B is for:
Birds

Many of the birds in New Zealand are not natives, having been brought there by British settlers in the 1800s.
However there is one worth pointing out.
The Tui is a bird from the honeyeater family, feeding predominantly on nectar.
They are very good mimics, a bit like Starlings.
Their song sounds like someone whistling, while trying to push open a rusty old gate!
Random fact: The collective noun for Tui is an ecstasy.
C is for: climbing Auckland Harbour Bridge

I’ve climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge, which I thoroughly enjoyed – so I was interested to see how the bridges compared.
The summit of the Sydney bridge is 134 M high, whereas the Auckland one was a mere 64 M.
However, for hard work and effort to get to the top I think the Auckland bridge is by far the best.
There are 332 steps on the Sydney bridge climb but over 450 on the Auckland one, not including the hundreds of rivets which have to be navigated.
D is for: dogs

I left my guide dog James with friends while I went away.
In Queenstown we met a man with his dog and I started chatting to him.
I told him about my guide dog and jokingly asked if his dog did anything for a living. he said he sings!
OK, so it’s difficult for you to appreciate how funny and adorable Happy (the appropriate name for the dog) sounds, but he’s on YouTube so you can listen to him there.
His owner, William Ingle first discovered Happy liked singing when he was playing Ring of fire by Johnny Cash.
William has written several songs for the dog which he loves accompanying.
E is for: earthquake

On the 22 February 2011, Christchurch suffered one of the worst earthquakes in New Zealand’s history.
185 people died.
The iconic Christchurch cathedral was destroyed.
A temporary “Cardboard Cathedral” was constructed and we went inside to hear a talk from one of the volunteer guides.
The walls are made from shipping containers and 60 M long cardboard tubes as well as steel and timber.
Outside the cathedral are 185 chairs to commemorate each person who died, each one is different.
F is for: food

There were two things I wanted to eat while I was in New Zealand.
Lamb – and pavlova.
I wasn’t disappointed by either of them, in fact *and I’m prepared for a backlash on this* I think the lamb in New Zealand is better than the lamb from Wales*
Each breakfast we’d eat juicy plums, not prunes, but proper mouth-watering fruit!
I even tried Black Doris plum ice-cream which I highly recommend.
G is for: guides

I didn’t go to New Zealand by myself, although I have been to many places on my own.
I went with a company called Traveleyes.
It was founded by Amar Latif, who is blind, and set it up so that blind and partially sighted people could enjoy travelling with sighted companions.
The prices for sighted people are subsidised which in turn makes prices for blind and partially sighted people a bit more expensive than the average holiday.
But, it is worth it knowing you’ll have someone to share the holiday with who will describe things, guide you – and in our case spend days just giggling and enjoying great company.
H is for: huntaway

One of my favourite trips was to Agridome, a working farm which puts on talks and displays to showcase the talent of the sheep, dogs and other animals.
We met the Huntaway, the New Zealand version of our sheepdogs.
They bark to get the sheep where they want them.
They come in different colours and can be either long or short haired.
I is for: interesting facts

Random fact time again!
The biggest export from New Zealand is milk powder.
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu*85 letters* is a hill near Porangahau in Hawke’s Bay on the North Island.
*Llanfair¬pwllgwyngyll¬gogery¬chwyrn¬drobwll¬llan¬tysilio¬gogo¬goch only has a pathetic 58*
There are 9 sheep per person in New Zealand.
New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote in 1893.
J is for: James Cook

James cook, didn’t actually discover New Zealand.
It was founded by Polynesian people about 800 years earlier – but it was Dutchman Abel Tasman who was the first European to discover it in 1642.
He named it New Zealand after the Dutch province of Zealand.
James Cook came along in 1769 and European settlers started coming to the country.
K is for Kiwi

Kiwi is the term for anyone from New Zealand.
Now, do you think it refers to the fruit – or the bird?
The Kiwi fruit actually originated in China and was known as the Chinese gooseberry.
The birds are flightless, about the same size as a chicken and are the only birds which have whiskers on their beak.
But, the name Kiwi as a term for the people of New Zealand comes from a type of boot polish used in the first world war.
It had a picture of the Kiwi bird on it which is why we call people from New Zealand kiwis.
L is for:
Lakes

I’m only popping this in as one of the weirdest moments I had was when I heard a lake with waves.
I had no idea that lakes had waves – but my friend, who used to be a geography teacher explained that some do – for example Lake Galilee.
M is for: Maori people and culture

My favourite day was when we had a fantastic experience of the Maori culture, entertainment and food.
We visited the carving and weaving schools in Rotorua to see how Maori people make objects out of wood and weave things from flax.
We went into the third Kiwi house of the holiday but as they’re nocturnal birds, they were asleep.
However, this was the only time we were given the opportunity to feel the feathers from a Kiwi. They’re incredibly soft!!
We also touched the beak of a stuffed Kiwi.
Their beaks are surprisingly long for such a small bird.
Then we were treated to some Maori dancing and singing.
We learned about the Hongi, a traditional Maori greeting where forehead and nose are pressed together with twice another person.
The “Ha” or breath of life is exchanged through this greeting.
The lady showing us (choosing a rather bemused member of our group) said that he should be careful not to do it three times, or they’d end up being married!
Then we heard some brilliant singing and dancing, and a few ladies from our group got up on stage to join in with the dancing. Then they performed the Hakka.
You haven’t experienced the true terror and beauty of the Hakka until you’ve seen it performed live in New Zealand!
It’s a Maori war dance and strikes fear into every sports team who witnesses it.
Finally we sat down a “Hangi” traditional Maori meal.
The food is cooked in the ground over hot stones.
We enjoyed lamb, chicken, pork, vegetables and salads!
Then it was pudding time!
There was pavlova, trifle and mousse – I could go on, but I’m sure you’re dribbling with jealousy already!

Next time:
What does minus 18 degrees feel like – and does water squeak?

You can follow my adventures on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

Love is blind?

I’ve given up trying to find Mr. Right – or even Mr. Goodenough.
I’ve accepted that the only man I’m going to have in my life has four legs and enjoys nothing more than running in and out of puddles and shedding copious amounts of fur!
I’ve been on a few dates, but most of them have been so disastrous I’ve decided I’m much better off being a feisty independent lady!
Here are just two stories of my dating adventures.

I should have known Ben *not his real name* was trouble by Chelly’s reaction.
She’s always been a good judge of character, and normally I’m tuned into her emotions.
I’m early, as I am for most things.
I’m just about to go home, thinking I’ve been stood up for the first time when a voice says:
“You’re dog’s not going to bite me is he?”
“No! Luckily for you she’s just had her dinner!” I say, flashing a wide smile.
The voice doesn’t answer for about thirty seconds, then he says:
“Right, shall we go in then?”
So, I think, that must be Ben, my date!
I have no sight at all so tone of voice is more important to me than body language.
“Ah bless him!” I think.
It must be daunting for him to be on a date with a really attractive blind lady and her even more stunning guide dog!”
Ben and I met on a Christian dating website. We’ve skyped once, messaged heaps of times and he seemed a really lovely person.
That’s why I took the plunge and mentioned meeting up before I left Cardiff to go to Australia to see friends and travel for a bit.
Chelly by this time is making her feelings known very well, but as I mentioned before I didn’t pick up on it.
She’s sitting bolt upright by my chair and I’m sure she keeps glancing at the door!
If she’d have growled at Ben I may have been more aware.
We have a meal, then walk by the castle for a bit.
I’m feeling absolutely bored!
I think of the pile of ironing waiting for me, and long to be back home!
I’d done the right thing and told my friends I was going out, what time we were meeting and where we’d be.
I fervently regretted not asking them to ring me at an appointed time with a crisis!
But I didn’t think the date would be this dull!
I laugh at his attempts of humour and try and interact with him.
“You’re a trained journalist,” I tell myself.
“You should be good at asking questions!”
I really think he’ll burst into tears when he starts saying how bad his childhood was and how he wishes he’d treated his sister better than he did!
Eventually I hear the words I’ve been longing for all night.
“Well, it’s been a lovely evening, shall I walk you home?”
“Oh, yes please!” I say, resisting the overwhelming desire to clap and do a jig!
I tell him Chelsea and I will be fine if he leaves us at the corner before my flat.
He scurries off into the night and I rush inside to ring a friend and update her on the date.
So, I’m totally bemused the next day when I get a message from Ben saying:
“Last night was really good fun! I really enjoyed meeting you! I’d like to take you out again on Tuesday, but you can leave the dog at home and I’ll drop you back after!”
Needless to say he got an abrupt reply back and we never spoke again.
Fast forward five years and my sister comes running down the stairs, brandishes her IPhone at me and squeals:
“You never told me you’d been on a date?”
She was one of the 2 million people who saw the first dates for guide dogs video on Facebook last year.
I was part of a group of four visually impaired people picked from hundreds of applications to appear on a video to promote guide dogs.
I bought myself a new outfit and we had our hair and make-up done.
I went to London, a real adventure for someone who was brought up in a little seaside town.
The dates hadn’t been informed we had any form of “disability” and I was asked to walk into the restaurant and sit down with my dog James.
So, I did – and then followed half a minute of silence.
“Oh great,” I thought
“A stand-off! Let’s see who talks first.”
Then my date did.
All in all it was – as the video depicted a fantastic, lovely time.
We chatted and things were going well, we had quite a bit in common and he regaled me with tales of his travels.
He was totally amazed I’d been sky-diving, on the biggest zip wire, won 4 TV quizzes, worked at a radio station in Australia and completed two long distance walks.
We both said we’d like to go on a second date – but unfortunately we never did.
As soon as the cameras stopped and I asked him if he’d like to stay and chat for a bit with me and the rest of the people on the programme he said he had to get back to work.
This really upset me as two out of the four dates stayed and got on really well with their matches.
I’m totally OK with it, now.
Yes there were tears of rejection afterwards – and countless replays of Meghan Trainor’s song “close your eyes” on the journey home.
I think it can be quite daunting meeting a disabled person for the first time, but it’s equally stressful for me as a blind person trying to find someone.
My main problem is the eye contact thing. I can smile, ask heaps of questions, wear lovely clothes and everything you’re supposed to do.
But I often find that when men have fussed over James and found out everything there is to know about him, they forget there’s something attached to the other end of his lead.

I’m never going to let not having a partner define me – as I’ve achieved so much without one and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.
Maybe there’s a quiz loving, outdoorsy, able to cook, funny, loves reading and travelling man out there, but until he finds me I’ll keep celebrating the good things I have in my life.
You can follow me on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

what does silence look like?

I’m Nicki, I’m in my 30s and I’m a home and away addict.
I first started watching it in the late 80s.
Next year, it’ll celebrate its 30th anniversary.
I’ve missed a few episodes over the years due to school, travelling and while I was at college and University and couldn’t afford a TV license.
So, last week I set myself the task of watching them all from the beginning.
Thankfully, some other Home And Away superfans have put summaries of every single episode on a handy website.
I noticed one huge difference when I started watching them again.
The minutes of incidental music used while someone was obviously getting up to no good, or, about to get up to no good were totally silent for me.
About 10 years ago Channel five started broadcasting audio described episodes!
For anyone who isn’t familiar with audio description – or AD, it’s when a pre-recorded soundtrack of the scenery, body language and expressions is interspersed with the dialogue to make things clearer for blind and partially sighted people.
It describes the action.
So for example it might say:
“A girl with long dark hair walks along an avenue lined with trees. She has a yellow Labrador trotting beside her.”
The dialogue isn’t supposed to overlap the description but fills in the gaps.
It’s also available in theatres and cinemas.
Last week I went to a performance by a new theatre company based in Cardiff called Elbow Room Theatre.
Chlo`E Clarke and Sami Thorpe who founded the company are passionate about inclusive arts and making theatre accessible for everyone.
The show I went to see takes audio description to a new dimension. Instead of having to listen to AD through uncomfortable headphones, the action is described live on stage by other actors.
I must admit it took a bit of getting used to at first, but I soon started to enjoy it.
The running around during the descriptions was frenetic and added to the drama of the performance.
Chlo`e is hoping that with some extra funding, they’ll be able to tour the show throughout the Wales and the UK.
They’re certainly a fantastic innovative company and I wish them all the best.
For more information about the company you can visit their website at:
http://www.elbowroomtheatre.com
follow my adventures on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

the top ten best things about being blind

In my last post I wrote the top 10 annoying things about being blind. So, here is my top ten list of the best things about being blind.
1 The awkwardness of sighted people when you refer to yourself and another blind friend as: “The two blindies in the corner” this happened at a pub quiz once and I’d given the quiz master full permission to call us that. A lady kept giving him dirty looks until I bellowed: “its fine, I told him he could call us that!” We won the quiz a week later with the quiz name the two blind mice.
2 Going out the house having attempted to do your own make-up, and knowing that the people you meet will be too kind to tell you its awful!
3 Having a guide dog and knowing you’re never alone. I love taking James everywhere, within reason and just being able to give him a little stroke or cuddle when I’m unsure about a situation is fantastic.
4 Related to that, knowing that people will talk to you if you have a guide dog. Admittedly, sometimes it’s annoying or plain rude or unnecessary.
Yesterday James needed to relieve himself, very rare that he needs to do it out and about, but when he was in the throws I heard a man’s voice saying: “eoeoeoeeeroeoeoooo!” I said to James *and him* “Oh James, we seem to have an audience. If I’d have known that I’d have charged for tickets!”
5 A fantastic little device called RNIB in your pocket allows me to read all the daily papers, lots of magazines and gives me access to over 20,000 books. It’s really easy to use, you just speak to it and let it *or her, she’s called Sam* know what you want to hear. You can even access hundreds of podcasts.
6 A special mention has to go to our local society for the blind. It’s actually called Cardiff institute for the blind (I hate the word institute, personally I think it should be society) but the staff and volunteers there are amazing! I recently moved here from another part of the UK and the help I’ve had from CIB has made such a difference.
7 Being able to encourage *I hate the word inspire* other blind people *and sighted people* to try new things. I’ve been so lucky to have had so many experiences. From swimming with dolphins, competing a half marathon, two long distance walks, a skydive and taking part in 7 TV quizzes to name a few. I know lots of people have done these, but I’m also aware there are lots of people who’d love to be able to try something new, but are scared or worried about it. Earlier I was part of a show called Weatherman Walking and we went to the local RSPB reserve in Conwy. We showed people who having a sight problem was not a barrier to enjoying nature. A few days later I had a tweet from the manager of the reserve saying how a young man had been inspired by the programme and had made his first visit to a nature reserve since his sight started getting worse.
8 The kindness of strangers. I know before I said at times people can be rude and unkind, but 99 % of the time I meet lovely kind people. From the lady who gave me £5 for a taxi when a bus driver left me stranded four stops from my home at 7 PM on a winters night, to the man in a local shop who looked after Chelsea for an afternoon when James and I had to take Mum to hospital after she broke her wrist. Someone once said that when you have a disability, you attract a certain kind of person who wants to be caring and helpful – and while a lot of disabled people might not agree, I think there’s a lot of truth in it.
9 This is silly, but knowing that if I was ever caught up in a power cut I could still amuse myself by listening to my battery operated radio or reading a braille book.
10 Being able to laugh at myself every day when I commit a “blindism” this could be apologising to a clothes rail in a shop, or giggling uproariously when I’m told by my university lecturer not to say “see, watch or look!” my response: “OK, do you want me to say guess who I felt in town the other day?” queue a very, very stunned silence from her – and helpless giggling from me.
If you want to know more about the fantastic organisations mentioned in this blog you can visit.
http://www.rnib.org.uk
http://www.cibi.co.uk
http://www.guidedogs.org.uk
http://www.rspb.org.uk
or follow me in twitterland at
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

first dates for guide dogs – what happened next

You might be one of the two million people who watched the “first blind dates” video online for guide dogs.
It was fantastic, a really lovely day.
But what you don’t know is what happened next.
I only knew about the video being online when my sister came racing downstairs, phone aloft shrieking:
“Nicki, you didn’t tell me you’d met someone>? He looks lovely! Have you seen him again?”
OK, time for a disclaimer.
This is only my experience, I can’t and wouldn’t write about anyone else involved in the process.
Right, so on to the story.
I bought myself a new outfit and we had our hair and make-up done.
I went to London, a real adventure for someone who was brought up in a little seaside town.
The dates hadn’t been informed we had any form of “disability” and I was asked to walk into the restaurant and sit down with my dog James.
So, I did – and then followed half a minute of silence.
“Oh great,” I thought
“A stand-off! Let’s see who talks first.”
Then my date did.
All in all it was – as the video depicted a fantastic, lovely time.
We chatted and things were going well, we had quite a bit in common and he regaled me with tales of his travels.
He was totally amazed I’d been sky-diving, on the biggest zip wire and competed in a half marathon.
We both said we’d like to go on a second date – but unfortunately we never did.
As soon as the cameras stopped and I asked him if he’d like to stay and chat for a bit with me and the rest of the people on the programme he said he had to get back to work.
I’m totally OK with it, now.
Yes there were tears of rejection afterwards – and countless replays of Meghan Trainor’s song “close your eyes” on the journey home.
I feel he wanted – and got his five minutes of fame *Yeah, I know it’s fifteen, but the video was five*
I also suspected the last thing he expected to meet was someone like me and he was overwhelmed with panic and the only way he could cope was to use the flight response.
It’s something which happens to people on dates all over the UK.
I have had some very good dates with sighted and non sighted people but I’d invested so much emotional energy in this one that the rejection hit me harder than it had before.
I wish him all the best for the future – and I hope he finds who, or what he’s looking for because he is a very pleasant man.
As for me?
Well, it’s actually made me finally realise how comfortable I am with who I am.
If I meet someone, that’s cool – but if I don’t that’s also fantastic.
It’ll certainly be cheaper this Christmas and next Valentine’s Day.
It also reminded me of another dating disaster.
I should have known Ben was trouble by Chelly’s reaction.
She’s always been a good judge of character, and normally I’m tuned into her emotions.
I’m early, as I am for most things.
I’m just about to go home, thinking I’ve been stood up for the first time when a voice says:
“You’re dog’s not going to bite me is he?”
“No! Luckily for you she’s just had her dinner!” I say, flashing a wide smile.
The voice doesn’t answer.
“Right, shall we go in then?”
So, that must be Ben, my date!
“Ah bless him!” I think.
“He’s obviously trying, but failing to be funny! It must be awful for him to be on a blind date with a really attractive lady and her even more stunning guide dog!”
Ben and I met on a dating website. We’ve skyped once, messaged heaps of times and he seemed a really lovely person.
That’s why I took the plunge and mentioned meeting up before I left Cardiff to go to Australia to see friends and travel for a bit.
Chelly by this time is making her feelings known very well, but as I mentioned before I didn’t pick up on it.
She’s sitting bolt upright by my chair.
If she’d have growled at Ben I may have been more aware.
We have a meal, then walk by the castle for a bit.
I’m feeling absolutely bored!
I think of the pile of ironing waiting for me, and long to be back home!
I’d done the right thing and told my friends I was going out, what time we were meeting and where we’d be.
I fervently regretted not asking them to ring me at an appointed time with a crisis!
But I didn’t think the date would be this dull!
I laugh at his attempts of humour and try and interact with him.
“You’re a trained journalist,” I tell myself.
“You should be good at asking questions!”
I really think he’ll burst into tears when he starts saying how bad his childhood was and how he wishes he’d treated his sister better than he did!
Eventually I hear the words I’ve been longing for all night.
“Well, it’s been a lovely evening, shall I walk you home?”
“Oh, yes please!” I say, resisting the overwhelming desire to clap and do a jig!
We part without so much as a kiss on the doorstep.
“Well Chelly,” I say.
I’m glad that’s over!”
So, I’m totally bemused the next day when I get a message from Ben saying:
“Last night was really good fun! I really enjoyed meeting you! I’d like to take you out again on Tuesday, but you can leave the dog at home and I’ll drop you back after!”
OK, I know my reaction wasn’t kind, I ignored him!
I get back from a wonderful time in Australia to find loads of messages, starting nicely and escalating into rants of injustice!
The last one says:
“Why are you ignoring me! I don’t deserve to be treated this way!”
I respond by saying that I’d been away, I didn’t appreciate him asking me to leave Chelly at home, and asked him if he’d say that to a lady who used a wheelchair!
I never heard from him again!
Note: name has been changed to protect the ignorant
You can follow my adventures with Chelsea and James at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly
for more about guide dogs visit
http://www.guidedogs.org.uk

introducing Chelsea

For the last seven and a half years, my life has been full of fun, laughter and absolute joy! It started on the 3rd of July 2006 when a little black Labrador burst into my world with all the grace of a hippo in a pool of sea lions!
We first met in May 2006. She’d sniffed me, then plonked herself on my lap with a contented sigh! I patted her and looked at the guide dog mobility instructor who’d brought Chelsea to meet me.
“So Nicki,” he said.
“What do you think of her so far?”
I hesitated. Inside I was screaming: “No, this isn’t happening! I don’t want this to happen!” but it wasn’t Chelsea’s fault.
Instead I said:
“um, she’s very small! Look at her, how’s she going to guide me. Vale is much bigger!”
The guide dog trainer laughed and called her over to him.
“What do you mean? She’s small, yes, but she’s an excellent worker, come on, let’s take her for a spin, see how she goes.” Now this was getting surreal – this was a dog, not a new car.
I stood up and Chelsea shook herself and trotted over to the trainer. She seemed to really like him.
We put her harness on and I gave her the command to go forward. She took off like a rocket and I squeaked in surprise.
We weaved in and out of the obstacles on my local shopping street and I felt a bit better.
The guide dog trainer congratulated us and asked the question I’d been dreading:
“Well, what do you think? do you think she could be your next guide dog?”
I thought about Vale, my first guide dog who I’d left in my flat. My mind went back 8 years to how I’d felt when I met her.
Chelsea was so different! She was so tiny, so lovely, but she wasn’t Vale. How could I answer this question! What would it say about Vale who’d been my eyes since I was 19! I wanted to say: “Don’t make me answer that question!
Instead I said:
“She’s very nice but maybe I need to meet her again in a few weeks, after my holiday to Zimbabwe?”
Luckily the trainer agreed. agreed.
For the next few weeks during and after my holiday I thought about Chelsea constantly.
I wondered how she was, what she was doing.
You know when you read a really interesting story and get attached to the characters and wish you could meet them? It was like that! I felt the book hadn’t been closed and there was more to discover.
After a really enjoyable safari holiday in Zimbabwe the trainer Andy brought Chelly back to meet me.
This time she lay on my foot, snoring contentedly while we talked.
“The thing is,” he said.
“I don’t think she’s right for you, she’s a bit distracted by other dogs. I let two other people walk with her and they couldn’t cope. I’m sorry, I don’t think it’d work.”
“Why?” I said
“She seemed fine, you didn’t say that when we met! I could help her, Vale had a lot of problems to begin with and I overcame them! Please let me try!”
“OK,” he said.
“I’ll do some more work with her and then you can begin training. I’m warning you though, it’s going to be tough!”
He wasn’t wrong, but what he didn’t say was that it would be worth every single minute!
I had no idea just how my life would change and what a big part in it Chelsea would play.
Next time:
More adventures with Chelly
You can follow my adventures in twitterland at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

Why some taxi drivers should be given the boot!

I’m afraid I have to blog again about an access issue, this time involving a well-known taxi company in Cardiff.
I’d had a fantastic time out with a friend, celebrating the fact that he’d finished his PHD course.
I normally book with a company called Dragon, who are mostly OK with my guide dog travelling with me.
But this company *I’m refusing to name them because I don’t want them to have publicity, good or bad* but I thought I’d use them for a change.
I’ve used them before, we had a few issues, but nothing like I experienced last night.
as soon as the taxi arrived the man said the dog would have to go in the boot.
I told him that it was better and easier for my guide dog, whom I’ve had for 2 years to sit with me in the foot well in the back of the taxi.
He said guide dogs normally went in the boot, and I re-iterated my reason for having him with me.
All the way home he wouldn’t let it go, and just kept on and on about how he takes guide dogs all the time and they go in the boot.
I felt utterly bullied and it really spoilt a lovely day.
I tried to assure him that we’d had a lot of training as to what to do with our dogs, and that if he was in the boot he’d be more more upset and restless than if he was with me.
The driver said the dog was all scrunched up in the back and couldn’t move, which made me, feel like an incompetent bad owner.
I eventually had to say that I’d had guide dogs for 20 years and I doubted there was anything he could tell me about how to look after them correctly.
His response was to say: “Oh, sorry I spoke, I won’t do it again!”
I do not expect to be questioned as to how I should or shouldn’t look after my dog when I am in a taxi.
I told him that no other driver had ever had a problem with my dog.
His attitude was absolutely wrong – and I refuse to let any other guide dog owner experience what I did yesterday.
I reported the issue to my local guide dogs team – and they were, as always fantastic.
Another thing which has enraged me is that the Email I had back from the company said they’d look into the “alleged” response.
Now, I’m a trained broadcast journo, so I fully realise there are instances when you have to write: “Alleged” but this isn’t one of them – she was basically saying: “If you’re telling the truth.”
I was very shaken and upset when I arrived home.

I had to write this to let other guide dog owners know about the issues, and to let any taxi driver know that what happened to me yesterday was unacceptable!!
Here are some things to read from the response guide dogs have sent to the company.
1. When travelling, guide dogs are trained to sit at their owner’s feet at all times, not to bother other people and not to climb on seats.
2. Providers must make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the way they provide their services.
3. Drivers should ask the blind or partially sighted person what assistance is needed before making assumptions as to what might be required.
4. If drivers have been hired to carry a guide dog owner, ask the passenger where they would prefer their dog to be. In purpose built taxis the dog will travel in the passenger cabin with the owner. In saloon cars guide dogs are normally trained to lie in the front or rear passenger foot well, between the feet of their owner.
5. If the front foot well is not large enough to accommodate the dog, the guide dog owner should be advised to travel in the rear of the vehicle with the dog in the foot well behind the front passenger seat. The front passenger seat should be pushed forward to make space for the dog. In an estate car, if the guide dog owner is in agreement, the dog may travel in the boot space.
Have you had taxi dramas?
Pop your experiences in the comments section of my blog, or follow me on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

Don’t put your hands over my eyes!

You are a kind, well-mannered considerate and sensible person. why else would you be reading this blog? I know you’d never indulge in the kind of stupidity this blog is about, but just in case you decide to change your mind, or know someone who’s inclined to behave in the way I describe, feel free to pass this on.
There aren’t many things which annoy me.
The only few exceptions are bad manners, people who eat crisps loudly on public transport *particularly smoky bacon or prawn cocktail* and tourists on mobility scooters who insist the pavement is theirs!
But, top of that list are people who interrupt me when I’m working James.
I encountered three people on Saturday which have forced me to write this blog.
I had been to a local cinema and watched a fantastic film called Their finest.
I was walking home, planning what to cook for dinner when a hand shot out from nowhere and I heard a voice say:
“Hi little champ!”
I then had to say “No!” to James, and he then swerved round the offender and carried on his way.
“What’s your problem!” you may be shouting
“The poor man only wanted to say hi!”
James is a guide dog! That means he guides me, with his eyes!
I have beautiful eyes, but unfortunately they’re no use to me at all.
So, to put your hand out and interrupt him is not only stupid with a capital S, but downright dangerous!
I’d only been walking about two minutes when a lady shouted:
“You’re nearly on the road, the dog wants to take you further away!”
I thanked her, but carried on the way we were.
James walks near the kerb, it’s just his thing, the guide dog trainer is fine with it, so am I!
He’s not going to put himself on the road or me.
But because of that well-meant interruption I had to reset my thinking.
Then, an incredibly drunk man lurched in front of us and shouted:
“Hallo!”
I carried on, hoping to avoid him and get home when he bellowed even louder.
“Hi,” I said
“You live by me you do, your Mum’s got your retired guide dog!”
I assured him he was right *even though only one statement was correct* and said:
“Sorry, I’ve got to get him home for his dinner!”
Now, I love doing the whole PR thing for guide dogs – I’m quite infamous in the local community for various charity fundraising adventures and other things I’ve been lucky to achieve and I’ll happily answer any questions people have about guide dogs, but I can’t accept behaviour like the three cases I’ve described.
Imagine if you were driving and someone popped their hands over your eyes!
That’s exactly what interrupting a guide dog owner when they’re working their dog is like.
So, unless there’s a huge hole that Jimmey hasn’t spotted, please give us the space to do what we’ve both been trained to do.
You can follow our adventures on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.comnickiandchelly